Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
In the office of the factory Susan found the man Etta described. He was seated, or, rather, was sprawled before an open and overflowing rolltop desk, his collar and cuffs off, and his coat and waistcoat also. His feet--broad, thick feet with knots at the great toe joints bulging his shoes--were hoisted upon the leaf of the desk. Susan's charms of person and manners so wrought upon him that, during the exchange of preliminary questions and answers, he slowly took down first one foot then the other, and readjusted his once muscular but now loose and pudgy body into a less loaferish posture. He was as unconscious as she of the cause and meaning of these movements. Had he awakened to what he was doing he would probably have been angered against himself and against her; and the direction of Susan Lenox's life would certainly have been changed. Those who fancy the human animal is in the custody of some conscious and predetermining destiny think with their vanity rather than with their intelligence. A careful look at any day or even hour of any life reveals the inevitable influence of sheer accidents, most of them trivial. And these accidents, often the most trivial, most powerfully determine not only the direction but also the degree and kind of force--what characteristics shall develop and what shall dwindle.
"You seem to have a nut on you," said the box manufacturer at the end of the examination. "I'll start you at three."
Susan, thus suddenly "placed" in the world and ticketed with a real value, was so profoundly excited that she could not even make a stammering attempt at expressing gratitude.
"Do your work well," continued Matson, "and you'll have a good steady job with me till you get some nice young fellow to support you. Stand the boys off. Don't let 'em touch you till you're engaged--and not much then till the preacher's said the word."
"Thank you," said Susan, trying to look grave. She was fascinated by his curious habit of scratching himself as he talked--head, ribs, arm, legs, the backs of his red hairy hands.
"Stand 'em off," pursued the box-maker, scratching his ribs and nodding his huge head vigorously. "That's the way my wife got me. It's pull Dick pull devil with the gals and the boys. And the gal that's stiff with the men gets a home, while her that ain't goes to the streets. I always gives my gals a word of good advice. And many a one I've saved. There's mighty few preachers does as much good as me. When can you go to work?"
Susan reflected. With heightened color and a slight stammer she said, "I've got something to do this afternoon, if you'll let me. Can I come in the morning?" "Seven sharp. We take off a cent a minute up to a quarter of an hour. If you're later than that, you get docked for the day. And no excuses. I didn't climb to the top from spittoon cleaner in a saloon fifteen years ago by being an easy mark for my hands."
"I'll come at seven in the morning," said Susan.
"Do you live far?"
"I'm going to live just up the street."
"That's right. It adds ten cents a day to your wages--the ten you'll save in carfare. Sixty cents a week!" And Matson beamed and scratched as if he felt he had done a generous act. "Who are you livin' with? Respectable, I hope."
"With Miss Brashear--I think."
"Oh, yes--Tom Brashear's gal. They're nice people. Tom's an honest fellow--used to make good money till he had his hard luck. Him and me used to work together. But he never could seem to learn that it ain't workin' for yourself but makin' others work for you that climbs a man up. I never was much as a worker. I was always thinkin' out ways of makin' people work for me. And here I am at the top. And where's Tom? Well--run along now--what's your name?"
"Lorny." He burst into a loud guffaw. "Lord, what a name! Sounds like a theayter. Seven sharp, Lorny. So long."
Susan nodded with laughing eyes, thanked him and departed. She glanced up the street, saw Etta standing in the door of the restaurant. Etta did not move from her own doorway, though she was showing every sign of anxiety and impatience. "I can't leave even for a minute so near the dinner hour," she explained when Susan came, "or I'd, a' been outside the factory. And ma's got to stick to the kitchen. I see you got a job. How much?"
"Three," replied Susan.
"He must have offered it to you," said Etta, laughing. "I thought about it after you were gone and I knew you'd take whatever he said first. Oh, I've been so scared something'd happen. I do want you as my lady friend. Was he fresh?"
"Not a bit. He was--very nice."
"Well, he ought to be nice--as pa says, getting richer and richer, and driving the girls he robs to marry men they hate or to pick up a living in the gutter."
Susan felt that she owed her benefactor a strong protest. "Maybe I'm foolish," said she, "but I'm awful glad he's got that place and can give me work."
Etta was neither convinced nor abashed. "You don't understand things in our class," replied she. "Pa says it was the kind of grateful thinking and talking you've just done that's made him poor in his old age. He says you've either got to whip or be whipped, rob or be robbed--and that the really good honest people are the fools who take the losing side. But he says, too, he'd rather be a fool and a failure than stoop to stamping on his fellow-beings and robbing them. And I guess he's right"--there Etta laughed--"though I'll admit I'd hate to be tempted with a chance to get up by stepping on somebody." She sighed. "And sometimes I can't help wishing pa had done some tramping and stamping. Why not? That's all most people are fit for--to be tramped and stamped on. Now, don't look so shocked. You don't understand. Wait till you've been at work a while."
Susan changed the subject. "I'm going to work at seven in the morning. . . . I might as well have gone today. I had a kind of an engagement I thought I was going to keep, but I've about decided I won't."
Etta watched with awe and delight the mysterious look in Susan's suddenly flushed face and abstracted eyes. After a time she ventured to interrupt with:
"You'll try living with us?"
"If you're quite sure--did you talk to your mother?"
"Mother'll be crazy about you. She wants anything that'll make me more contented. Oh, I do get so lonesome!"
Mrs. Brashear, a spare woman, much bent by monotonous work--which, however, had not bent her courage or her cheerfulness--made Susan feel at home immediately in the little flat. The tenement was of rather a superior class. But to Susan it seemed full of noisome smells, and she was offended by the halls littered with evidences of the uncleanness of the tenants. She did not then realize that the apparent superior cleanness and neatness of the better-off classes was really in large part only affected, that their secluded back doors and back ways gave them opportunity to hide their uncivilized habits from the world that saw only the front. However, once inside the Brashear flat, she had an instant rise of spirits.
"Isn't this nice?" exclaimed she as Etta showed her, at a glance from the sitting-room, the five small but scrupulously clean rooms. "I'll like it here!"
Etta reddened, glanced at her for signs of mockery, saw that she was in earnest. "I'm afraid it's better to look at than to live in," she began, then decided against saying anything discouraging. "It seems cramped to us," said she, "after the house we had till a couple of years ago. I guess we'll make out, somehow."
The family paid twenty dollars a month for the flat. The restaurant earned twelve to fifteen a week; and the son, Ashbel, stocky, powerful and stupid, had a steady job as porter at ten a week. He gave his mother seven, as he had a room to himself and an enormous appetite. He talked of getting married; if he did marry, the family finances would be in disorder. But his girl had high ideas, being the daughter of a grocer who fancied himself still an independent merchant though he was in fact the even more poorly paid selling agent of the various food products trusts. She had fixed twenty a week as the least on which she would marry; his prospects of any such raise were--luckily for his family--extremely remote; for he had nothing but physical strength to sell, and the price of physical strength alone was going down, under immigrant competition, not only in actual wages like any other form of wage labor, but also in nominal wages.
Altogether, the Brashears were in excellent shape for a tenement family, were better off than upwards of ninety per cent of the families of prosperous and typical Cincinnati. While it was true that old Tom Brashear drank, it was also true that he carefully limited himself to two dollars a week. While it was true that he could not work at his trade and apparently did little but sit round and talk--usually high above his audience--nevertheless he was the actual head of the family and its chief bread-winner. It was his savings that were invested in the restaurant; he bought the supplies and was shrewd and intelligent about that vitally important department of the business--the department whose mismanagement in domestic economy is, next to drink, the main cause of failure and pauperism, of sickness, of premature disability, of those profound discouragements that lead to despair. Also, old Brashear had the sagacity and the nagging habit that are necessary to keeping people and things up to the mark. He had ideas--practical ideas as well as ideals--far above his station. But for him the housekeeping would have been in the familiar tenement fashion of slovenliness and filth, and the family would have been neat only on Sundays, and only on the surface then. Because he had the habit of speaking of himself as useless, as done for, as a drag, as one lingering on when he ought to be dead, his family and all the neighborhood thought of him in that way. Although intelligence, indeed, virtue of every kind, is expected of tenement house people--and is needed by them beyond any other condition of humanity--they are unfortunately merely human, are tainted of all human weaknesses. They lack, for instance, discrimination. So, it never occurred to them that Tom Brashear was the sole reason why the Brashears lived better than any of the other families and yielded less to the ferocious and incessant downward pressure.
But for one thing the Brashears would have been going up in the world. That thing was old Tom's honesty. The restaurant gave good food and honest measure. Therefore, the margin of profit was narrow--too narrow. He knew what was the matter. He mocked at himself for being "such a weak fool" when everybody else with the opportunity and the intelligence was getting on by yielding to the compulsion of the iron rule of dishonesty in business. But he remained honest--therefore, remained in the working class, instead of rising among its exploiters.
"If I didn't drink, I'd kill myself," said old Tom to Susan, when he came to know her well and to feel that from her he could get not the mere blind admiration the family gave him but understanding and sympathy. "Whenever anybody in the working class has any imagination," he explained, "he either kicks his way out of it into capitalist or into criminal--or else he takes to drink. I ain't mean enough to be either a capitalist or a criminal. So, I've got to drink."
Susan only too soon began to appreciate from her own experience what he meant.
In the first few days the novelty pleased her, made her think she was going to be contented. The new friends and acquaintances, different from any she had known, the new sights, the new way of living--all this interested her, even when it shocked one or many of her senses and sensibilities. But the novelty of folding and pasting boxes, of the queer new kind of girls who worked with her, hardly survived into the second week. She saw that she was among a people where the highest known standard--the mode of life regarded by them as the acme of elegance and bliss--the best they could conceive was far, far below what she had been brought up to believe the scantest necessities of respectable and civilized living. She saw this life from the inside now--as the comfortable classes never permit themselves to see it if they can avoid. She saw that to be a contented working girl, to look forward to the prospect of being a workingman's wife, a tenement housekeeper and mother, a woman must have been born to it--and born with little brains--must have been educated for it, and for nothing else. Etta was bitterly discontented; yet after all it was a vague endurable discontent. She had simply heard of and dreamed of and from afar off--chiefly through novels and poems and the theater--had glimpsed a life that was broader, that had comfort and luxury, people with refined habits and manners. Susan had not merely heard of such a life; she had lived it--it, and no other.
Always of the thoughtful temperament, she had been rapidly developed first by Burlingham and now by Tom Brashear--had been taught not only how to think but also how to gather the things to think about.
With a few exceptions the girls at the factory were woefully unclean about their persons. Susan did not blame them; she only wondered at Etta the more, and grew to admire her--and the father who held the whole family up to the mark. For, in spite of the difficulties of getting clean, without bathtub, without any but the crudest and cheapest appliances for cleanliness, without any leisure time, Etta kept herself in perfect order. The show boat and the quarters at the hotel had been trying to Susan. But they had seemed an adventure, a temporary, passing phase, a sort of somewhat prolonged camping-out lark. Now, she was settled down, to live, apparently for the rest of her life, with none of the comforts, with few of the decencies. What Etta and her people, using all their imagination, would have pictured as the pinnacle of luxury would have been for Susan a small and imperfect part of what she had been bred to regard as "living decently." She suspected that but for Etta's example she would be yielding, at least in the matter of cleanliness, when the struggle against dirt was so unequal, was thankless. Discouragement became her frequent mood; she wondered if the time would not come when it would be her fixed habit, as it was with all but a handful of those about her.
Sometimes she and Etta walked in the quarter at the top of the hill where lived the families of prosperous merchants--establishments a little larger, a little more pretentious than her Uncle George's in Sutherland, but on the whole much like it--the houses of the solid middle class which fancies itself grandly luxurious where it is in fact merely comfortable in a crude unimaginative way. Susan was one of those who are born with the instinct and mental bent for luxurious comfort; also, she had the accompanying peculiar talent for assimilating ideas about food and dress and surroundings from books and magazines, from the study of well-dressed people in the street, from glances into luxurious interiors through windows or open doors as she passed by. She saw with even quicker and more intelligently critical eyes the new thing, the good idea, the improvement on what she already knew. Etta's excitement over these commonplace rich people amused her. She herself, on the wings of her daring young fancy, could soar into a realm of luxury, of beauty and exquisite comfort, that made these self-complacent mansions seem very ordinary indeed. It was no drag upon her fancy, but the reverse, that she was sharing a narrow bed and a narrow room in a humble and tiny tenement flat.
On one of these walks Etta confided to her the only romance of her life therefore the real cause of her deep discontent. It was a young man from one of these houses--a flirtation lasting about a year. She assured Susan it was altogether innocent. Susan--perhaps chiefly because Etta protested so insistently about her unsullied purity--had her doubts.
"Then," said Etta, "when I saw that he didn't care anything about me except in one way--I didn't see him any more. I--I've been sorry ever since."
Susan did not offer the hoped-for sympathy. She was silent.
"Did you ever have anything like that happen to you?" inquired Etta.
"Yes," said Susan. "Something like that."
"And what did you do?"
"I didn't want to see him any more."
"I don't know--exactly.
"And you like him?"
"I think I would have liked him."
"You're sorry you stopped?"
"Sometimes," replied she, hesitatingly.
She was beginning to be afraid that she would soon be sorry all the time. Every day the war within burst forth afresh. She reproached herself for her growing hatred of her life. Ought she not to be grateful that she had so much--that she was not one of a squalid quartette in a foul, vermin-infested back bedroom--infested instead of only occasionally visited--that she was not a streetwalker, diseased, prowling in all weathers, the prey of the coarse humors of contemptuous and usually drunken beasts; that she was not living where everyone about her would, by pity or out of spitefulness, tear open the wounds of that hideous brand which had been put upon her at birth? Above all, she ought to be thankful that she was not Jeb Ferguson's wife.
But her efforts to make herself resigned and contented, to kill her doubts as to the goodness of "goodness," were not successful. She had Tom Brashear's "ungrateful" nature--the nature that will not let a man or a woman stay in the class of hewers of wood and drawers of water but drives him or her out of it--and up or down.
"You're one of those that things happen to," the old cabinetmaker said to her on a September evening, as they sat on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. The tenements had discharged their swarms into the hot street, and there was that lively panorama of dirt and disease and depravity which is fascinating--to unaccustomed eyes. "Yes," said Tom, "things'll happen to you."
"What--for instance?" she asked.
"God only knows. You'll up and do something some day. You're settin' here just to grow wings. Some day--swish!--and off you'll soar. It's a pity you was born female. Still--there's a lot of females that gets up. Come to think of it, I guess sex don't matter. It's havin' the soul--and mighty few of either sex has it."
"Oh, I'm like everybody else," said the girl with an impatient sigh. "I dream, but--it doesn't come to anything."
"No, you ain't like everybody else," retorted he, with a positive shake of his finely shaped head, thatched superbly with white hair. "You ain't afraid, for instance. That's the principal sign of a great soul, I guess."
"Oh, but I am afraid," cried Susan. "I've only lately found out what a coward I am."
"You think you are," said the cabinetmaker. "There's them that's afraid to do, and don't do. Then there's them that's afraid to do, but goes ahead and does anyhow. That's you. I don't know where you came from--oh, I heard Etta's accountin' for you to her ma, but that's neither here nor there. I don't know where you come from, and I don't know where you're going. But--you ain't afraid--and you have imagination--and those two signs means something doing."
Susan shook her head dejectedly; it had been a cruelly hard day at the factory and the odors from the girls working on either side of her had all but overwhelmed her.
Old Tom nodded with stronger emphasis. "You're too young, yet," he said. "And not licked into shape. But wait a while. You'll get there."
Susan hoped so, but doubted it. There was no time to work at these large problems of destiny when the daily grind was so compelling, so wearing, when the problems of bare food, clothing and shelter took all there was in her.
For example, there was the matter of clothes. She had come with only what she was wearing. She gave the Brashears every Saturday two dollars and a half of her three and was ashamed of herself for taking so much for so little, when she learned about the cost of living and how different was the food the Brashears had from that of any other family in those quarters! As soon as she had saved four dollars from her wages--it took nearly two months--she bought the necessary materials and made herself two plain outer skirts, three blouses and three pairs of drawers. Chemises and corset covers she could not afford. She bought a pair of shoes for a dollar, two pairs of stockings for thirty cents, a corset for eighty cents, an umbrella for half a dollar, two underwaists for a quarter. She bought an untrimmed hat for thirty-five cents and trimmed it with the cleaned ribbon from her summer sailor and a left over bit of skirt material. She also made herself a jacket that had to serve as wrap too--and the materials for this took the surplus of her wages for another month. The cold weather had come, and she had to walk fast when she was in the open air not to be chilled to the bone. Her Aunt Fanny had been one of those women, not too common in America, who understand and practice genuine economy in the household--not the shabby stinginess that passes for economy but the laying out of money to the best advantage that comes only when one knows values. This training stood Susan in good stead now. It saved her from disaster--from disintegration.
She and Etta did some washing every night, hanging the things on the fire escape to dry. In this way she was able to be clean; but in appearance she looked as poor as she was. She found a cobbler who kept her shoes in fair order for a few cents; but nothing was right about them soon--except that they were not down at the heel. She could recall how she had often wondered why the poor girls at Sutherland showed so little taste, looked so dowdy. She wondered at her own stupidity, at the narrowness of an education, such as hers had been, an education that left her ignorant of the conditions of life as it was lived by all but a lucky few of her fellow beings.
How few the lucky! What an amazing world--what a strange creation the human race! How was it possible that the lucky few, among whom she had been born and bred, should know so little, really nothing, about the lot of the vast mass of their fellows, living all around them, close up against them? "If I had only known!" she thought. And then she reflected that, if she had known, pleasure would have been impossible. She could see her bureau drawers, her closets at home. She had thought herself not any too well off. Now, how luxurious, how stuffed with shameful, wasteful unnecessaries those drawers and closets seemed!
And merely to keep herself in underclothes that were at least not in tatters she had to spend every cent over and above her board. If she had had to pay carfare ten cents a day, sixty cents a week!--as did many of the girls who lived at home, she would have been ruined. She understood now why every girl without a family back of her, and without good prospect of marriage, was revolving the idea of becoming a streetwalker--not as a hope, but as a fear. As she learned to observe more closely, she found good reasons for suspecting that from time to time the girls who became too hard pressed relieved the tension by taking to the streets on Saturday and Sunday nights. She read in the Commercial one noon--Mr. Matson sometimes left his paper where she could glance through it--she read an article on working girls, how they were seduced to lives of shame--by love of finery! Then she read that those who did not fall were restrained by religion and innate purity. There she laughed--bitterly. Fear of disease, fear of maternity, yes. But where was this religion? Who but the dullest fools in the throes of that bare and tortured life ever thought of God? As for the purity--what about the obscene talk that made her shudder because of its sheer filthy stupidity?--what about the frank shamelessness of the efforts to lure their "steadies" into speedy matrimony by using every charm of caress and of person to inflame passion without satisfying it? She had thought she knew about the relations of the sexes when she came to live and work in that tenement quarter. Soon her knowledge had seemed ignorance beside the knowledge of the very babies.
It was a sad, sad puzzle. If one ought to be good--chaste and clean in mind and body--then, why was there the most tremendous pressure on all but a few to make them as foul as the surroundings in which they were compelled to live? If it was wiser to be good, then why were most people imprisoned in a life from which they could escape only by being bad? What was this thing comfortable people had set up as good, anyhow--and what was bad? She found no answer. How could God condemn anyone for anything they did in the torments of the hell that life revealed itself to her as being, after a few weeks of its moral, mental and physical horrors? Etta's father was right; those who realized what life really was and what it might be, those who were sensitive took to drink or went to pieces some other way, if they were gentle, and if they were cruel, committed any brutality, any crime to try to escape.
In former days Susan thought well of charity, as she had been taught. Old Tom Brashear gave her a different point of view. One day he insulted and drove from the tenement some pious charitable people who had come down from the fashionable hilltop to be good and gracious to their "less fashionable fellow-beings." After they had gone he explained his harshness to Susan:
"That's the only way you can make them slickedup brutes feel," said he, "they're so thick in the hide and satisfied with themselves. What do they come here for! To do good! Yes--to themselves. To make themselves feel how generous and sweet they was. Well, they'd better go home and read their Russia-leather covered Bibles. They'd find out that when God wanted to really do something for man, he didn't have himself created a king, or a plutocrat, or a fat, slimy church deacon in a fashionable church. No, he had himself born a bastard in a manger."
Susan shivered, for the truth thus put sounded like sacrilege. Then a glow--a glow of pride and of hope--swept through her.
"If you ever get up into another class," went on old Tom, "don't come hangin' round the common people you'll be livin' off of and helpin' to grind down; stick to your own class. That's the only place anybody can do any good--any real helpin' and lovin', man to man, and woman to woman. If you want to help anybody that's down, pull him up into your class first. Stick to your class. You'll find plenty to do there."
"What, for instance?" asked Susan. She understood a little of what he had in mind, but was still puzzled.
"Them stall-fed fakers I just threw out," the old man went on. "They come here, actin' as if this was the Middle Ages and the lord of the castle was doin' a fine thing when he went down among the low peasants who'd been made by God to work for the lords. But this ain't the Middle Ages. What's the truth about it?"
"I don't know," confessed Susan.
"Why, the big lower class is poor because the little upper class takes away from 'em and eats up all they toil and slave to make. Oh, it ain't the upper class's fault. They do it because they're ignorant more'n because they're bad, just as what goes on down here is ignorance more'n badness. But they do it, all the same. And they're ignorant and need to be told. Supposin' you saw a big girl out yonder in the street beatin' her baby sister. What would you do? Would you go and hold out little pieces of candy to the baby and say how sorry you was for her? Or would you first grab hold of that big sister and throw her away from beatin' of the baby?"
"I see," said Susan.
"That's it exactly," exclaimed the old man, in triumph. "And I say to them pious charity fakers, `Git the hell out of here where you can't do no good. Git back to yer own class that makes all this misery, makes it faster'n all the religion and charity in the world could help it. Git back to yer own class and work with them, and teach them and make them stop robbin' and beatin' the baby.'"
"Yes," said the girl, "you are right. I see it now. But, Mr. Brashear, they meant well."
"The hell they did," retorted the old man. "If they'd, a' had love in their hearts, they'd have seen the truth. Love's one of the greatest teachers in the world. If they'd, a' meant well, they'd, a' been goin' round teachin' and preachin' and prayin' at their friends and fathers and brothers, the plutocrats. They'd never 'a' come down here, pretendin' they was doin' good, killin' one bedbug out of ten million and offerin' one pair of good pants where a hundred thousand pairs is needed. They'd better go read about themselves in their Bible--what Jesus says. He knew 'em. He belonged to us--and they crucified him."
The horrors of that by no means lowest tenement region, its horrors for a girl bred as Susan had been! Horrors moral, horrors mental, horrors physical--above all, the physical horrors; for, worse to her than the dull wits and the lack of education, worse than vile speech and gesture, was the hopeless battle against dirt, against the vermin that could crawl everywhere--and did. She envied the ignorant and the insensible their lack of consciousness of their own plight--like the disemboweled horse that eats tranquilly on. At first she had thought her unhappiness came from her having been used to better things, that if she had been born to this life she would have been content, gay at times. Soon she learned that laughter does not always mean mirth; that the ignorant do not lack the power to suffer simply because they lack the power to appreciate; that the diseases, the bent bodies, the harrowed faces, the drunkenness, quarreling, fighting, were safer guides to the real conditions of these people than their occasional guffaws and fits of horseplay.
A woman from the hilltop came in a carriage to see about a servant. On her way through the hall she cried out: "Gracious! Why don't these lazy creatures clean up, when soap costs so little and water nothing at all!" Susan heard, was moved to face her fiercely, but restrained herself. Of what use? How could the woman understand, if she heard, "But, you fool, where are we to get the time to clean up?--and where the courage?--and would soap enough to clean up and keep clean cost so little, when every penny means a drop of blood?"
"If they only couldn't drink so much!" said Susan to Tom.
"What, then?" retorted he. "Why, pretty soon wages'd be cut faster than they was when street carfares went down from ten cents to five. Whenever the workin' people arrange to live cheaper and to try to save something, down goes wages. No, they might as well drink. It helps 'em bear it and winds 'em up sooner. I tell you, it ain't the workin' people's fault--it's the bosses, now. It's the system--the system. A new form of slavery, this here wage system--and it's got to go--like the slaveholder that looked so copper-riveted and Bible-backed in its day."
That idea of "the system" was beyond Susan. But not what her eyes saw, and her ears heard, and her nose smelled, and her sense of touch shrank from. No ambition and no reason for ambition. No real knowledge, and no chance to get any--neither the leisure nor the money nor the teachers. No hope, and no reason for hope. No God--and no reason for a God.
Ideas beyond her years, beyond her comprehension, were stirring in her brain, were making her grave and thoughtful. She was accumulating a store of knowledge about life; she was groping for the clew to its mystery, for the missing fact or facts which would enable her to solve the puzzle, to see what its lessons were for her. Sometimes her heavy heart told her that the mystery was plain and the lesson easy--hopelessness. For of all the sadness about her, of all the tragedies so sordid and unromantic, the most tragic was the hopelessness. It would be impossible to conceive people worse off; it would be impossible to conceive these people better off. They were such a multitude that only they could save themselves--and they had no intelligence to appreciate, no desire to impel. If their miseries--miseries to which they had fallen heir at birth--had made them what they were, it was also true that they were what they were--hopeless, down to the babies playing in the filth. An unscalable cliff; at the top, in pleasant lands, lived the comfortable classes; at the bottom lived the masses--and while many came whirling down from the top, how few found their way up!
On a Saturday night Ashbel came home with the news that his wages had been cut to seven dollars. And the restaurant had been paying steadily less as the hard times grew harder and the cost of unadulterated and wholesome food mounted higher and higher. As the family sat silent and stupefied, old Tom looked up from his paper, fixed his keen, mocking eyes on Susan.
"I see, here," said he, "that we are so rich that they want to raise the President's salary so as he can entertain decently--and to build palaces at foreign courts so as our representatives'll live worthy of us!"